As I mentioned in the "Mastering Demands of Web Video" column (July 31), the production of short-form videos is likely to be the next growth business opportunity. There are millions of videos online, but only a small portion offer helpful insights on how to develop a business producing them. Here is a sampling of sites:
Brian Conley has developed two sites www.aliveinbaghdad.org and www.aliveinmexico.org designed to give locals in Iraq and Mexico the opportunity to tell important stories from their perspective and point of view. Much of the news we get in the West comes from outsiders, with little understanding of the local people or culture. Reporters write stories they think are important from a Western perspective. Such reporting is useful, but far from the whole, or a balanced picture.
All the stories on Aliveinbaghdad are three to five minutes long, shot and produced by locals who have lived in Iraq. All the dialogue is in the local language with English subtitles. Currently, they are posting about two new stories a week on each site. At present, the company has a staff of 10, including an editor and translators, and operates on a meager budget: $100,000 a year. Conley earns $35,000, the editor $25,000, and the remainder (after production costs) is divided among the photographers. Surprisingly, considering the amount of money available to each photographer, Conley insists that four photographers in Baghdad are working full-time for Aliveinbaghdad.
How does he even buy equipment with such a low budget? He claims he doesn't need the up-to- date cameras and often buys used one on Ebay for as low as $150. Considering this, the quality of the productions is excellent. Occasionally, he is able to sell stories to major networks, but the principle funding comes from sponsorship by the Personal News Network (PNN), though it's unclear how much traffic the sites get.
The model is one that could be easily copied in other countries. It also could be used in the U.S. to give special-interest groups a voice.
Another site to look at is Chuck Olsen's www.mnstories.com. It personal stories, all shot in Minnesota, but not all by Olsen. He searches YouTube for Minnesota-related videos, and says he has a constant stream of surprises. Learn about him at: http://blogumentary.typepad.com/
Olsen has recently launched a site called Gastronomical.tv. It provides short video reviews of restaurants, bars and cafÃ©s in the Twin Cities. He also has plans to expand the coverage to farms, gardens and kitchens.
The site www.videojug.com offers a variety of short videos categorized under Beauty & Style, Family & Parenting, Leisure & Hobbies, Real Estate, Cars, Food & Drink, Love & Sex, Safety & Survival, House & Garden, Health & Medicine, Modern Manners, Sports & Fitness, Education, Jobs & Careers, Money & Wealth, Technology & Gadgets, Environment, Legal, Pets and Travel.
It supplies ideas for short-form videos that could be shot tailored to your local area using local talent. In some cases, photographers may be able to convince local business organizations to fund production that promote their business or organization.
If you're interested in feedback from others about the quality of your productions, post them on http://www.ourstage.com. It offers videographers the chance to make money from their videos that fit into various categories. The site runs monthly contests, with peer judging and a top monthly prize of $5,000. The advantage here is that you can see what people like.
At the moment, the videos in greatest demand are humorous. Sometimes, advertisers are willing to pay to place their ads alongside them. If you've got a video site with lot of traffic (usually in the range of 1 million hits per month), there are organizations like www.blip.tv that can find advertisers for you. A UK-based site http://www.fonejacker.tv has a series of funny videos related to real or imagined phone conversations.
Another humorous line is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Y73sPHKxw&mode=related&search= produced in Japan. The No. 1 video in this series has been viewed 2,078,665 times so far. Taking the basic idea and key shot from the first video, the videographer produced a series of shorts around the same theme. Many have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Key lesson: The videos on these sites aren't that difficult to produce. Yes, it will take a little time to get comfortable with the equipment and the editing, but any experienced photographer should be able to produce work of as good or of better quality than most of what's on the Web. The main challenges are finding story ideas and a customer who will fund your project.